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Canadian lawyers challenge each other to do the right thing

October 17, 2014 — 

To celebrate its centennial year, the University of Manitoba’s Faculty of Law is hosting a symposium on ethics and professionalism with presentations by some of Canada’s most influential lawyers, includingfederal Department of Justice whistleblower Edgar Schmidt, and the Hon. Justice Murray Sinclair, Chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada and Justice of the Court of Queen’s Bench of Manitoba.

Other notable participants include former general counsel for the Canadian Wheat Board James McLandress, criminal lawyer Roberta Campbell of Campbell Gunn Inness, and the event moderator, Kristin Dangerfield, senior general counsel for the Law Society of Manitoba

What: Legal Symposium on Ethics and Professionalism, Client Conduct that Violates the Law
When: Friday, October 17, 1-4:30 p.m.
Where: Inn at the Forks (75 Forks Market Rd), Winnipeg

Entitled Client Conduct that Violates the Law: What is a Good Lawyer to Do?, the symposium takes place on Friday, October 17, at the Inn at the Forks, from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. and aims to help lawyers better deal with ethical dilemmas.

As part of the Call to the Bar ceremony, lawyers take both a barrister’s and solicitor’s oath. These oaths affirm the importance of integrity in the practice of law.

However, lawyers are often faced with difficult ethical dilemmas – quandaries that push them into the grey zone, causing serious headaches for the young and seasoned practitioner of law alike.

Roberta Campbell, a defence lawyer since 1995, knows that lawyers in her field face weekly ethical challenges, from clients telling multiple different versions of a story to defendants offering to pay their legal fees off the books.

James McLandress, who serves as general counsel to the Winnipeg Airport Authority and previously at the Canadian Wheat Board, says as in house counsel you must not only deal with your company’s code of ethics, but more importantly, its culture of ethics.

“People can be oblivious to issues of secrecy and unethical behavior either willingly or unknowingly. For some reason the environment or culture prevents people from feeling empowered to speak up,” says McLandress.

“Companies, organizations and governments need to place a real emphasis on ethical behavior and have strong, functioning whistleblower polices,” says Ed Schmidt, who worked for 13 years interpreting and drafting legislation for the federal Department of Justice. In 2012, after years of effort to address issues internally in the Department of Justice, he challenged the government on the way new bills and regulations were being examined by his department, claiming the process was inconsistent with the constitution.

Schmidt argues that much more rigorous examinations than are currently being conducted by the Minister of Justice and the Deputy Minister are required by law.

His action raised questions about the statutory duties of the Minister of Justice and the Deputy Minister, but also raised other questions about the conceptual framework used to think about the state and state actors, among other issues.

Schmidt was suspended without pay by his employer. He sought donations so that he could afford an employment lawyer, and eventually settled with the Department of Justice. Even though he believes the experience has cost him financially, he does not regret his decision to ask the Federal Court to clarify the standard required for statutory examinations.

Although the case is still in pretrial procedures, a motion is expected to be heard on Monday, October 20, 2014.

“The case raises important issues that I think need to be addressed,” says Schmidt. The current approach has “the effect of shifting the burden of discovering and challenging legislation that does not conform to the Charter virtually entirely to the citizen.” As Justice Noel of the Federal Court stated at an earlier stage in the case, “If that is not of public importance, I don’t know what is.”



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